By Ned Cantwell
Some of the state’s future politicians and some of the state’s future journalists met a couple of weeks ago in Portales. It was not pretty.
Boys State is an excellent program conducted by the American Legion since 1935 to teach high school kids how government works.
The High School Journalism Workshop is an excellent program conducted by the New Mexico Press Association since 1980 to teach high school kids how newspapers work.
Each group booked facilities at Eastern New Mexico University the same week for its summer camp.
The 250 political students, all boys, far outnumbered the 21 journalists, mostly girls. There was little social fraternization between these two groups.
That is because the boys were intensely committed to learning the intricacies of city, county and state government.
It is because the girls were passionately focused on learning the intricacies of newspaper writing and editing.
And it is because 50 heavily armed off-duty state troopers were hired to shoot and kill any delegate who ventured into the other camp’s space.
Actually, it made some sense for the two groups to interact. What’s more natural than future politicians talking to future journalists? The journalists were publishing Future Press, a paper produced during their summer camp.
So who wants to go get a story on how the cafeteria works? A hand or two waves listlessly. So who wants to go talk to the guys at Boys State to see what they are up to? Half the room goes nuts.
Annamae Salas, a junior at Capital High in Santa Fe, draws the assignment. It was not to happen.
Annamae and fellow journalist Kimberly Vialpando were sent packing on orders by the American Legion commander when they were found sitting on a campus bench taking notes during an interview with one of the boys, even though their purpose for being there was clearly understood.
What possible harm could come from a high school journalist interviewing a high school politician, I wondered to one of the supervisors? It would be “distracting” to the boys, he explained.
Well, yes. Hey, American Legion guys, listen up. When Annamae and Kim walked into your camp, they no doubt distracted the boys. But it had little to do with their notepads.
The refusal of the American Legion top brass to allow his charges to be interviewed led to understandable suspicion when Annamae explained the dilemma to her fellow journalists.
“What do they have to hide?” someone asked. Several theories were advanced, including the notion that this was a secret Homeland Security operation training our youth in anti-terrorism tactics.
It wasn’t real life, these summer camps conducted by the American Legion and the New Mexico Press Association. But it was a real-life lesson. When politicians clam up, the media gets suspicious.
Since I spent a couple of days teaching young journalists the value of accuracy and ethics, I need to confess something. I made up that part about hiring 50 armed guards to keep the boys and girls apart. There were only 30.
Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: